After weeks of preparation, members of the Broadway North Youth Company are ready to take audiences on a journey under the sea.
The local youth theatre group opens their newest musical, The Little Mermaid Jr., at the E.A. Rawlinson Centre on Friday. The musical is based on the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, but draws heavily from the popular Disney animated version, which includes the popular Academy Award-winning song “Under the Sea”.
Show director Roxanne Dicke said the company last performed The Little Mermaid Jr. roughly 10 years ago, and the creative and production team felt it was a good time to bring it back.
“We had the right cast this year for that show,” Dicke said. “It offers a lot of great featured roles, so I think that’s really important because you want to fuel the entire company.”
A total of 82 youth singers, dancers, and actors will bring The Little Mermaid Jr. to life for four public shows, plus several more for local schools. Dicke said the opening performance on Friday has everyone excited, but the journey getting here has been just as enjoyable.
“They build relationships in the community through this program, and those friendships are long lasting,” she said. “They look forward to it. This is their safe place to land for those kids who love the arts, and they work so hard and they learn so many skills. We’re just incredibly proud of them.
“The creative team and the production team have worked so hard to ensure that this show happened, and the staff that we have right now currently has stepped in and done a lot of work that needed to be done,” she added.
It’s not just longtime Disney fans, or fans of the original Anderson work, who are excited either. By his own admission, St. Mary High School student Sam Malenfant, who plays Prince Eric, didn’t watch a lot of Disney movies as a kid. However, he said the rest of the cast’s excitement is contagious.
“It’s been a whirlwind of a time and I’ve loved every single moment of it,” Malenfant said. “There’s always conflicts that come in. There’s always roadbumps and obstacles, but it’s been such a journey and I love it so much.
“This is my second home. I wouldn’t choose anything else to, 9 a.m. on my Saturdays, giving up the weekend to come here and be with all these people, all the kids, and them just making my life so much better. It’s a nice fresh positivity.”
Malefant first started performing in Broadway North Youth Company performances 10 years ago. This year will be his last with the group before graduating. He’s hoping to make the most of it.
“It’s been such a great journey,” he said. “It’s such a good thing. It’s such a good company to put your children into. They learn so much.
“It’s not just singing, dancing, and acting. It’s life lessons as well, and I’ve learned so much. This place and these people have basically made who I am today. I’m so grateful for it because I’ve been able to learn from them. I’ve been able to learn from myself and explore different parts of myself with their aim and with their guidance.”
Like Malenfant, fellow St. Mary student Willow Vogelgesang is in her last year with Broadway North after spending a decade performing with the company. However, unlike Malenfant, she grew up a huge fan of Disney’s The Little Mermaid.
When the opportunity arose to bring the story to life, she eagerly took it.
“I love the story, (and) the falling in love,” said Vogelgesang, who plays lead villain Ursula the Sea Witch. “It’s a romantic story. The music is great. It’s a fan favourite. Everyone loves The Little Mermaid, and the idea of getting to play Ursala was very exciting.”
Vogelgesang said she loves playing the villain on set since it gives her an opportunity to show a side people typically don’t see in real life. However, she also loves the story’s positive message, and hopes it will hit home with audiences.
“(What) I really hope audiences take away is go after your dreams,” she said. “Don’t let other people stop you from getting what you want and from doing what you love. Go out there. Get your prince.”
While this will be her last year with the youth theatre company, Vogelgesang said it won’t be her last as an actress. She wants to get into acting after graduating high school, and said working with the creative and production team has been a major boost.
“We’ve been doing rehearsals since the beginning of September, and it has been a lot of fun, especially having kids of all ages,” she said. “You get to watch as the younger kids grow older. The newer kids are coming in who have no experience, (and you’re) getting to help them get used to the production. Then it’s so much fun working with professionals who know what they’re doing, and getting to learn from them.”
Broadway North Youth Company’s The Little Mermaid Jr. opens on Friday, Dec. 1, with follow-up performances on Dec. 2, Dec. 8, and Dec. 9. All shows start at 7 p.m.